Wow – A Rare Northern Shrike Visits Pickering Creek

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Northern Shrike at Pickering Creek as photographed by Wayne Bell

Birders have been flocking to Pickering Creek Audubon Center over the last couple of weeks to spot a rare bird. A first year Northern Shrike was first spotted by Dr. Wayne Bell on January 29.

Bell, an experienced birder, first observed the Northern Shrike while conducting periodic monitoring of bird species at Pickering Creek. As he scanned the area with his spotting scope from one of the wetland observation platforms, he got his first look at the bird perched in saplings before it flew across the recently restored wetlands. After returning to the parking lot, he located the bird again and observed it on and off again for a half hour – alternating between perching on exposed branches and diving into the underbrush. At this time, he was able to take a picture of the bird through his spotting scope.

The Northern Shrike is rarely found on the Eastern Shore. The bird breeds in the far northern reaches of Canada and northern Alaska. During the winter months, it migrates into the northern parts of the United States. However, it is rare to find it south of the New York-Pennsylvania state line.

The Shrike is a mostly gray songbird with a narrow black mask, black tail with white outer feathers, and black wings with a small white patch. It’s most notable feature, however, is the sharply hooked tip on its stout bill. They use this hawk-like bill to capture and snap the neck of prey, consisting largely of small mammals or other birds. Since they lack talons, the Northern Shrike will then impale the captured prey on a thorn to hold it in place while feeding.

After spotting the bird, Dr. Bell shared his sighting with other birders in the area through the Talbot County Bird Club rare bird hotline. He also reported it using eBird, a national database developed by Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology to capture bird sightings used by birders throughout the world. Once reported through eBird, the sighting was identified as a state rarity on reports shared with these birders.

By the next day, birders throughout the state were visiting Pickering Creek to see this unique bird. Most were rewarded with views of the bird as it perched high on exposed branches of sweet gums, sometimes near the parking lot, other times between the two wetland observation platforms. A review of eBird reports shows that over 70 birders added the Northern Shrike to their bird list. One birder came as far as Frostburg, MD, and another made the trip from North Carolina.

According to eBird, a Northern Shrike was last sighted at Pickering Creek in 2005, when it showed up in mid-February and stayed around for about a month. The closely related Loggerhead Shrike can be found throughout the southern half of the United States. While its range does not extend to the Eastern Shore, it sometimes makes a rare appearance. It was last seen at Pickering Creek in 2011, where it generated similar interest from birders throughout the region. The Loggerhead Shrike can be distinguished from the Northern Shrike by its thicker black mask, whiter breast, and smaller size.

Pickering Creek Audubon Center is open for the public to enjoy nature daily from dawn to dusk. There is no admission to enjoy the Center’s trails this February. There is no admission from March to December either. To learn more about Pickering Creek Audubon Center, visit its website at http://pickering.audubon.org. To learn more about the Talbot County Bird Club or subscribe to the rare bird hotline, send an email to talbotbirdclub@gmail.com.

“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” is a Stunning Production — Review by Peter Heck

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“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” cast: on sofa – Brianna Johnson as Honey and Lyle Pinder as Nick, standing Brad Chaires as George, & Jen Friedman as Martha  — Photo by Jane Jewell

Edward Albee’s groundbreaking play, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, currently playing at the Garfield Center in Chestertown, brings some of the strongest performances in recent years to the local stage. Directed by Gil Rambach, the play – as Rambach noted before the opening night performance – is challenging, even uncomfortable for audiences. But nobody who enjoys the theater should miss this production. Simply put, it’s electrifying.

Albee’s play had its Broadway debut in 1962, and it won both the Tony Award and the Drama Critics’ Award as best play. It was selected for the 1963 Pulitzer Prize by the award’s drama jury, but the award’s advisory board reportedly overruled the selection because of the play’s use of profanity and its sexual themes, both unusual at the time. No Pulitzer was given for drama that year.

The original cast included Uta Hagen, Arthur Hill, Melinda Dillon, and George Grizzard, with Allen Schneider as director. The production at Billy Rose Theatre in New York ran for 664 performances, after which it opened in London. It has been revived numerous times – with Colleen Dewhurst and Ben Gazzara in 1976, and with Mike Nichols and Elaine May in a 1980 production in New London. A 1994 London production starred David Suchet and Diana Rigg — that’s one I would love to have seen.

George (Brad Chaires) confronts his wife Martha (Jen Friedman) with Nick (Lyle Pinder) in the background in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” — Photo by Jane Jewell

However, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf is probably best known from the 1966 film starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, with George Segal and Sandy Dennis as the younger couple. Directed by Mike Nichols, it was nominated for 13 Academy Awards – every category for which it was eligible – one of only two films ever to do so. It ended up winning five, including Taylor as best actress and Dennis as supporting actress. And, in a sign of the changing times, the script retained much of the provocative language of the stage version. The days of film censorship were over.  This is definitely adult fare – so keep the kiddies at home, except perhaps for very mature teenagers.   But definitely go yourself.  It’s a drama, not a comedy, though there are some ironic chuckles and laugh lines.  Be prepared for an intense evening of drama at its best.

The play explores the complex and embattled relationship of a middle-aged married couple, George and Martha. After a faculty party at the small New England college where George teaches, Martha invites a younger faculty couple, Nick and Honey, to their home. George instantly takes umbrage at her having issued the invitation without consulting him, and the ensuing argument carries on throughout the night and into the next morning, drawing in the younger couple who stay in spite of the raging emotions. In the course of it, much is revealed about the lives and relationships of both couples, though the real explosions take place between George and Martha.

Put that baldly, it sounds as if the play is about nothing much, and in a sense it is. But in another sense, it’s about everything: ambition and failure, love and hate, reality and illusions, innocence and experience – life itself. Albee packs these themes into the interaction of four characters in one tense evening, fueled by way too much to drink and unrestrained libido. A significant portion of the dialogue is delivered at the top of the actors’ voices – it must require incredible vocal stamina for them to keep from burning out after the first act. In a show that runs close to three hours, that’s a lot to ask – but on opening night, the actors delivered.

Director Rambach, who has a long directing career in New Jersey before moving to the Shore, is also a playwright. He said after the performance we saw that he has directed Virginia Woolf once before in the mid-’90s, but his accumulated experience since then has given him a fresh perspective on the play. For this production, he has put together an outstanding cast.

Jen Friedman as Martha in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” — Photo by Jeff Weber

In the Garfield production of the play, Jen Friedman takes the role of Martha – the Elizabeth Taylor role. Well regarded for her strong comic roles – most recently as Gorgeous Tettlebaum in The Sisters Rosenzsweig at Church Hill – in this play she delivers a powerful, over-the-top performance as a woman trapped in a loveless marriage, lashing out at everything and everyone around her yet sometimes her own vulnerability shows and the audience feels sympathy – and perhaps even identification–with her. Friedman’s character covers an incredible range of emotions, and she makes them all believable. Regular theater-goers have had plenty of opportunities to see her versatility, but this role may be her most impressive yet.

Garfield regular Bradley Chaires plays George, and his energy in the role is a match for Friedman’s. He makes good use of his physical bulk to dominate the stage, even looming over and shoving around the 6’1” actor who plays Nick. He also conveys the character’s mean streak even when he’s not the main focus of a scene, as when he sits and reads a book while Martha makes passes at the younger professor. A strong performance by an actor who has become a valuable featured player at the Garfield.

Brianna Johnson as Honey and Lyle Pinder as Nick in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” — Photo by Jeff Weber

Brianna Johnson, who has worked both onstage and behind the scenes at the Garfield and Church Hill Theatre, is quietly brilliant as Honey. The mousy young faculty wife is in one sense a secondary character, far less flamboyant that George or Martha or even her husband. But every time I looked at her, her expression and posture delivered an unmistakable message about how the character felt and responded to what was going on around her. Only 21 years old, Johnson shows uncanny stage presence in this role; let’s hope we see a lot more of her on local stages.

Nick is played by Chestertown native Lyle Pinder, making his Garfield debut after garnering numerous theater and TV and film credits in New York. His experience is easy to see, as he gives the character a combination of arrogance and unexpected vulnerability. An excellent job.

The set, representing George and Martha’s living room, is nicely done, with lots of books on view and ‘60s-looking furniture. And the costumes are right for the period, thanks to Connie Fallon, who also did the set decoration.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf is playing through Feb. 24, with performances at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets are $20 general admission; $15 for seniors or military personnel; and $10 for students.   Reservations can be made on the Garfield website, or by calling the theater at 410-810-2060.

Brad Chaires

  Jen Friedman

Brianna Johnson

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lyle Pinder

Director and Crew for “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” –

Brad Chaires as George in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” — Photo by Jeff Weber

Brad Chaires and Jen Friedman as George and Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf — Photo by Jeff Weber

 

It’s drinks for everyone in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” – Photo by Jeff Weber

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Mid-Shore Food: Chesapeake Harvest Goes Online with Jordan Lloyd

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Chesapeake Harvest, which has been incubated by the Easton Economic Development Corporation for the last several years, started out focused on preparing Eastern Shore farmers to expand their market reach by training them with best practices and food safety guidelines required for larger markets.

But from the very beginning, Chesapeake Harvest was also eager to help those farmers with marketing and sales strategies to satisfy not only wholesale demands, but develop creative new ways to open up retail and institutional opportunities.

One of those new opportunities has been the development of Chesapeake’s online farmers’ market. With the leadership of advisory board member Jordan Lloyd, his wife, Alice, Chesapeake Harvest’s Elizabeth Beggins, and EEDC director Tracy Ward, the team switched on their website a year ago to test the waters of this entirely new way to bring local food to local family tables.

Last week, the Spy sat down with Jordan at the Bullitt House in Easton to talk about this new program and its future.

This video is approximately three minutes in length. For more information about Chesapeake Harvest and to access their website please go here.

 

Ignominy by Craig Fuller

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Time was when individuals seeking leadership positions carefully considered how events in their past might impact their quest for public office.

To witness the circumstances in Virginia where individuals are coping with differing but troubling past behaviors, caused me to wonder who is to judge anymore? In the era of Trump, just what is unacceptable? And, what standards now exist to determine what we will accept or reject when it comes to a person’s past?

My first instinct was to ponder what in the world those who ran for public office were thinking. Did they just assume some elements of their past would not surface? Or, did they think that it no long matters what surfaces?

It used to be that if there was something untoward in one’s past, the election process would surface the issues. Candidates even retained investigators to determine if there might be anything in their own past that would cause concern. Always thought this was smart since while something might not be disqualifying, being surprised and reacting poorly could damage a campaign….or, as it turns out, a sitting governor.

I wondered where the challengers were with their opposition research and where the media was with their laser like focus on the misdeeds of those seeking election to public office. How could three statewide candidates be elected only to be subject to virtually simultaneous calls for resignation?

No matter where one stands on any one elected leader, no one should want to be surprised by questionable deeds from the past. Candidates should be more transparent…as in providing tax returns. The media should probe carefully but aggressively; because, here’s the thing, the decision now about what is acceptable and unacceptable is now up to the individual voter. That voter must make a determination with the facts and that determination is far better made before the election than after with nothing other than public humiliation or the next election to correct a wrong call.

While I, for one, no longer can tell just what normative behavior is, ignominy – public shame, humiliation and embarrassment – after someone is elected serves no one well. We need to demand openness and transparency. While it is unlikely we will find the individual without an embarrassment in their past, knowing about it and judging how an individual learned from it must be part of the calculation going into selecting our leaders.

Craig Fuller served four years in the White House as assistant to President Reagan for Cabinet Affairs, followed by four years as chief of staff to Vice President George H.W. Bush. Having been engaged in five presidential campaigns and run public affairs firms and associations in Washington, D.C., he now resides on the Eastern Shore with his wife Karen.

Delmarva Review: Entropy by Adam Tamashasky

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Entropy

I don’t know that much about entropy
except that I don’t call my brother much anymore.
Holidays and birthdays, ours and our kids’,
but the bonds weaken over time.
It’s enough now to leave a voicemail.
Our lives, like leaves, have branched apart,
though a thin root keeps us, briefly, in touch.
But I see these October leaves around my feet now,
and I can’t tell which ones grew up together.

I’ve taught my daughters so many lessons—
how to hold my hand across the street,
how to hold on to me in the deep end—
but now I wish I’d offered better lessons:
what their sisters’ hands in theirs can feel like,
how not to let go during the fall.

Maryland poet Adam Tamashasky teaches at American University. One of his poems in Delmarva Review was just nominated for a Pushcart Prize. His poetry has also appeared in Cold Mountain Review, The Innisfree Poetry Journal, and 491 Magazine. He grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, and went to the University of Dayton for his undergraduate degree and to American University for his MFA.

Delmarva Review is a literary journal of national scope, with regional roots. The nonprofit review discovers and prints compelling new fiction, nonfiction, and poetry from authors within the region and beyond. It is supported by individual contributions and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. Visit: DelmarvaReview.org. Order copies at Amazon.com.

Out and About (Sort of): Hope for Journalism by Howard Freedlander

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Last week I promised to continue the conversation about reversing the sad decline of local news and its detrimental effect on democracy as measured by informed citizen participation.

In recent years I’ve become a devotee of digital media, such as state-level websites like Maryland Matters and Maryland Reporter. They allow me to get my daily fix of Annapolis politics. The former offers original articles written by experienced staff journalists, while the latter typically has one staff-written article and an aggregation of stories from print publications throughout Maryland.

Both of these nonprofit electronic publications are funded primarily by foundations keenly interested and invested in the need for professional coverage of local and state government. They also fundraise through periodic appeals. Subscriptions cost nothing.

To put my money where my convictions are, I happily donate to one of the publications noted above. I remain somewhat bemused to observe how journalists-turned editors-turned business-owners unabashedly seek donations from readers, understanding, I believe, that donors cannot be allowed to influence the news product.

Closer to home, the Chestertown Spy and Talbot Spy, another nonprofit digital medium, has a business model that differs from Maryland Matters and Maryland Reporter. It carries local sponsorship advertising. It too offers free subscriptions. Last year, its ninth in existence, the Spy conducted a successful fundraising appeal.

Though I don’t pretend to be able to justify the feasibility of one business model over another, the common thread seems to be an infusion of privately-raised money. This similarity seems rooted in a commitment by donors—comprising wealthy owners, foundations, individuals and joint-venture entrepreneurs—to sustainment of information-gathering vehicles that preserve a democracy dependent on public accountability and oversight.

Traditional newspapers and magazines continue to rely on paid advertising and subscriptions.

I further suggest that communities on the brink of losing a valuable local newspaper coalesce to raise money to ensure the future of a community asset. While I realize that every community, large and small, has pressing social needs, I believe that the local newspaper provides an invaluable service to residents; it’s a bulwark against the diminution of democracy.

Like a local utility, a newspaper or website fuels and sustains the health of a community. Residents have a vessel into which they can pour their concerns and opinions.

To take the analogy to a local utility one step further, I would go so far to say that local journalism produces a form of “renewable energy” on the part of its readers. The democratic process works best when citizens become engaged in local matters based upon what they read and hear.

In an opinion piece written recently by Megan McArdle in The Washington Post, she wrote,” Journalism isn’t going away, exactly. There are business models that work, largely two: funding by donors or wealthy owners willing to operate at a loss, or subscriptions. But those models can’t support all the journalism now being done.

“The number of donors doesn’t magically increase just because more are needed. And subscription models have limits, because most people can only afford a few at a time.”

Pointing to the ability of digital media to produce an outlet that doesn’t require printing presses and large amounts of newsprint, McArdle wrote, “Once a digital article has been written, an increasing readership costs the publisher almost nothing; in economist-speak, the marginal cost is near zero.”

I must add a caveat to what might appear to be this column’s bias for digital media. My day is incomplete without feeling compelled to hold and read actual newspapers. But I’m paying increasing attention to digital news sources on my ever-present iPhone.

I’m just an unrepentant news junkie.

Like most everything else we do in our capitalistic society, we must pay for print and digital journalism, whether through subscriptions or donations, if we think it’s important to our lives and democracy.

We have choices.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland.  Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He  also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer.  In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

 

Soup for You by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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Something strange is afoot in my universe. My past has started returning to me like chickens coming home to roost. Last week, I told you about three childhood ditties that have returned to haunt me…in a good way. This week, it’s soup that has reappeared on my horizon. It’s as though my life is a radio station I’ve listened to for so long that the playlist has begun to repeat. Everything is new all over again.

Here’s how it all started this time: a few nights ago, my wife and I went out to dinner and bumped into some good friends who were having a glass of wine. A lot of our things start that way, but in this case, the spark was when the conversation turned to our friends’ house renovation that was underway down near St. Michaels. John took out his cell phone to show us pictures of what appeared to be a major construction project and as he was scrolling through his montage of photos, his thumb quickly swiped across what looked to me like a recipe. Not just any recipe, mind you. It was a recipe for Chippewa Soup.

“Stop!” I said.

John dutifully obeyed and began to explain that the guest bedroom was going to have a picture window with a wonderful view of the bay…

“No; go back,” I said. “Not that. The recipe. Did I just see a recipe for Chippewa Soup?”

John looked at me the way people do from time to time but began to scroll back through all the photos and yes, lo and behold, there was indeed a photo of a recipe for Chippewa Soup. “Oh that,” he said, “it’s just a recipe for some soup that comes from Rolling Rock…”

“I know!” I was probably talking too loudly. “I’m from Pittsburgh, you know. That was my favorite soup! Only two places ever served it: Rolling Rock and the Duquesne Club, the twin pillars of Pittsburgh society! I loved it so much, I asked for the recipe and made a batch every Christmas Eve for twenty years!” I was definitely talking too loudly now. The renovation project was out the window. Suddenly I realized I had somehow forgotten all about Chippewa Soup. I mean, how does one forget something once so loved? Now there’s something to muse on for another time…but I digress.

First thing next morning, I went to the grocery store and bought everything I needed. It was going to be a cold day—a perfect day for soup!. I could already savor the redolent aroma that would again fill the house; I couldn’t wait to taste all the subtle flavors that would rewarm my belly.

There are two known recipes for Chippewa Soup: one is gastronomically complicated, the other is caveman simple. As a chef, I was trained in the Ocham’s Razor school of cooking: the simple recipe is likely to be just as good—maybe even better—as the fancy version. Now I admit that as a scientific methodology, Friar Ocham’s theory is not considered an irrefutable principle of logic; it’s more of an arbiter among competing hypotheses that states if you want to solve a problem, the most simple solution—the one with the fewest assumptions—is more likely to be correct than a more complex one. In my cooking methodology, especially when it comes to Chippewa Soup, it all boils down to this: KISS: keep it simple, stupid.

Interested? Getting hungry? Maybe if I were the Seinfeld Soup Nazi, I would now go and hide the recipe to keep you coming back for more, but in the true spirit of Musing, I’ve decided to share it with you so pay attention:

Combine two cans of tomato and split pea soup. (Campbell’s is just fine.) Add a smoked ham hock. In a separate pan (I prefer a cast iron skillet), dice and sauté in half stick of butter, carrots, celery, and onion. Add curry powder to taste—the more, the better in my book—and cook for 5 minutes. Add the curried vegetables to the soup and let it simmer on the stove for two hours before draining the soup through a colander. Mix in enough heavy cream to turn the color to gold. Garnish with fresh chives, a crouton or two, and a dollop of sour cream. Serve hot or cold…but hot is better.

Chippewa soup pairs well with your favorite glass of wine and a fresh, warm baguette from Evergrain. Soup for you! Yum! Let me know what you think.

So welcome to the clubs. I’m off to the kitchen but don’t worry…

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was published in May 2017; a second volume of Musings entitled “I’ll Be Right Back” was released in June 2018.  Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com

Oh, Bother by George Merrill

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My wife calls me ‘Eeyore’ when she’s feeling cutesy. Many of you will remember the children’s classic, Winnie the Pooh. Eeyore was the sad donkey who always lamented the loss of his tail. He’s always searching somewhere looking for it.

She calls me Eeyore since I tend toward a melancholic disposition and usually see the glass as half empty. Another reason is that I lose things all the time. The glasses I wore on my nose only seconds before seem to disappear, even though I have not moved but a foot or so from where I last had them. I wish I could attribute this tendency to aging; in fact, it’s been an unfortunate character trait as long as I can remember.

One of my grandchildren visiting at the house one year commented on all the little stuffed Eeyores about the house. The picture accompanying this essay my wife painted for my birthday. I told my granddaughter that the Eeyors were gifts from Gramma Jo – she gets a kick out of reminding me that I often lose my tail. My grandchild, perplexed, defended me saying that Gramma Jo was just being silly; “You don’t have a tail.”

“Yeah,” I told her, “Now you can see what she means.”

Recently I was idly thumbing through some old Golden Books we kept for our grandchildren to read to them when they were small. Occasionally I’ll read some when my imagination sags and I’m at a loss for ideas. Their innocence often cuts through complex issues and illuminates significant things in a playful way. I picked up a book at random, called, “Just Be Nice . . . and help a friend.” It was all about Eeyore and his unending search for his lost tail.

The story begins with a sad looking Eeyore who wakes up to find his tail missing. To make a long story short, Eeyore sets off to find his tail, imploring as many of his friends as he sees to aid him in the search. They’re all too busy: Pooh was collecting honey, Rabbit was gardening and couldn’t get away, Piglet and Owl were busy and Tigger and Roo were, as we all remember, always on the move, somewhere. Eeyore strikes out. “Oh, bother,” he laments.

Totally discouraged, Eeyore goes home, paints his house gray to fit his dejected mood and to hide from friends the way depressed people often hide themselves behind a dark cloud. His friends, done with their chores begin feeling guilty. They resolve to make off for Eeyore’s house to offer help in his search. When Pooh looks into Eeyore’s house, he sees the missing tail.

Fairy tales have a moral: at first, I thought the moral was about being a real friend and helping out. But then I had another take; Eeyore’s tail was actually right under his nose (or rump) the whole time and he never saw it. What he thought he lost was either right in front of him or close by, in either case, equally as close.

I think I had a need to see the story in this way, given where I now find myself in life, being a writer, a purveyor of tales, if you will. Nothing is more discouraging, even depressing, than for a writer not being able to find his tale. And I have behaved much the way Eeyore did. He wanted someone to help find it for him and he went out diligently looking for that help; I would look in books, read newspapers, religious literature, call learned friends or just mope and mindlessly thumb through L.L. Bean Catalogues. While some of this activity may have helped inform me, or if not, at least numbed me, I ultimately find my tale emerging somewhere from deep within; like my keys, in front of me next to the phone that I don’t see because they are so close. Sometimes I go through periods where I will think not only have I lost my tale, but I will never be able to find another one again. The tale is gone, lost forever and I mope and grouse. And then, for reasons I wish I could identify, I see a tale emerging right before me, as bright as the moon ascending on a cloudless night and I know this is my tale and I want desperately to tell it. My energy returns and I feel that, at least for that moment, I’m all in one piece again, tale and all.

It’s hard at first to make heads or tails out of our innate processes of creativity in whatever forms they take; parenting, cooking, being a friend, handling adversity, nursing our wounds, loving others, aging, finding a generous heart and perhaps most challenging of all, forgiving. The divine attribute we all share as human beings (God was first and foremost a creator) is the capacity to make things new; to mend a broken relationship, find joy in the midst of sorrow, and see in what is old and familiar to us, something unusual and surprising.

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist.  A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.

Franchot Hears Concerns About Future of Hospital

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Washington College President Kurt Landgraf, Comptroller Peter Franchot, and Dixon Valve CEO Dick Goodall pose for a photo before a meeting in Landgraf’s office to discuss the future of the Chestertown Hospital. Photo by Jane Jewell

Peter Franchot, the Comptroller of Maryland, met with a small group of residents concerned about the future of the Chestertown hospital on Friday, Feb. 1. The meeting, originally scheduled for a downtown restaurant, was moved to the office of Washington College President Kurt Landgraf and was not open to the public or the press. Another meeting scheduled for Jan. 31, which would have been open to the public, was canceled because there was no heat in Town Hall, the site scheduled for the meeting.

However, Dr. Gerald O’Connor, who has been one of the prime forces in the Save the Hospital group, provided a press release summarizing the meeting. He wrote:

The leadership of ‘Save the Hospital’ succeeded, on Friday, to raise awareness of our community’s concerns about our hospital to the highest levels in Annapolis by meeting with Comptroller Peter Franchot. We talked about the services the hospital provides today, as well as our concern that the hospital may not be able to continue providing inpatient care beyond 2022. That’s when the Emergency Room and other outpatient services will continue, but inpatient beds will likely be closed.

Our meeting in the offices of Kurt Landgraf, the President of Washington College, was extremely candid. Three doctors explained their concerns that the hospital no longer has the number of nursing and tech staff it should have to care for the number of patients who normally need inpatient care throughout the year, and they expressed concerns that retired physicians and specialists have not always been replaced.

We spent a good deal of time talking about the enormous impact that the hospital has on the area’s economy. President Landgraf as well as Dixon Valve CEO Richard Goodall and Heron Point Executive Director Garret Falcone led that discussion, as did Kent County Commissioner Bob Jacob, Chestertown Councilman Marty Stetson and Main Street Historic Chestertown Manager Kay MacIntosh.

Comptroller Franchot listened closely and asked good questions, and his Chief of Staff, Len Foxwell—who, incidentally, was born in the hospital in Cambridge—took notes. Mr. Franchot has long been a friend of the Eastern Shore, especially Kent County and Chestertown. Remember? He saved us when the Highway Department said it was going to close the Chester River Bridge for almost a month. We understand that he can’t make specific promises about what he’ll do, but we trust that he is as good as his word. He said he would ‘act as a cheerleader’ and invited us to call on him again and again when there are opportunities when he might be helpful.

Meanwhile, we want our community to remain loyal to the hospital in all ways—use the hospital when you need care, donate to the Hospital Foundation so equipment will always be state-of-the-art, thank Comptroller Franchot for his support, and tell Governor Hogan we need his help.”

UM Shore Medical Center – Chestertown

Franchot took a few minutes before the meeting to talk to reporters who had initially been told they would be welcome at the meeting. He said he came to the meeting to listen to residents. “I’m very sympathetic,” he said, noting that what’s happening with the Chestertown hospital is an example of what’s happening to hospitals nationwide. He gave the example of a hospital in Montgomery County, with 400 beds, only 10 of which he said were currently occupied. “Everybody’s going through a transition” in healthcare, he said. The issue is how to get from very good, but expensive, healthcare to upgraded healthcare for people in a wider region at a more affordable rate. “We need a new group of people trained in healthcare, and we need urgent care access,” he said. He expressed hope that the meeting would be “a stepping stone to something more accessible.”

Landgraf, in a phone conversation Feb. 4, said that Franchot and his staff spent most of the time listening. Everyone had a chance to make comments for a few minutes. He said that Franchot “really listened and understood the issues”. Franchot’s response to the presentation was that the Save the Hospital group would need to discuss the situation with the University of Maryland Hospital system, the parent group for Shore Regional Health. The group should come to the meeting prepared to offer solutions, Franchot said. Also, he said, the Save the Hospital group needs to present its case to state Senator Steve Hershey and to Governor Larry Hogan. However, Franchot said, there isn’t much he can do in his role as Comptroller, although he said the implications of the hospital for economic development were very critical. He stressed that the local group needs to have a plan moving forward and deliver a set of recommendations to the University of Maryland. The most important point to come out of the meeting, Landgraf said, is that emotionalism and criticism of the hospital aren’t getting us anywhere. Landgraf said the group needs to think about how the hospital can become “a center of excellence,” offering high-quality services not offered elsewhere in the system so people will come here rather than going elsewhere for care.

Those present at the meeting with Comptroller Franchot were from various stakeholders including several doctors,  local government officials, along with representatives from Washington College, Dixon Valve, Save Our Hospital, and other concerned citizens. More meetings are expected to take place in the future, and the Chestertown Spy will be there to report.

 

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